By Sheryl Flatow
27 Nov 2011
|Photo by MGM|
If a kickline of leg lamps is illuminating the stage, it can only mean one thing: the reinvention of "A Christmas Story" as a musical.
Yes, the funny, nostalgic, schmaltz-free film that alternates with "It's a Wonderful Life" as the best Christmas movie of all time has inspired A Christmas Story, the Musical!, and the hope of those involved is that it will become an annual holiday season event.
"The notion of a musical was intriguing to me, because I thought the material lent itself to that format," says Billingsley, who has long been a successful film producer. "Ralphie is very much a dreamer, and in the movie there are fantasy sequences, so I could envision singing and dancing. I was approached before the Seattle production, and after watching some clips, reading the book and listening to some of the music, I was extremely impressed with what they were doing. So I dove in."
The show, with a book by Joseph Robinette and a score by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, has a new director, John Rando (Urinetown), and new choreographer, Warren Carlyle (Finian's Rainbow), for the tour.
|photo by Chris Bennion|
It's up to them to provide the balance between a small, pitch-perfect family story and the larger demands of a musical. "Working in a musical format is exciting because you have a new bag of tricks," says Billingsley. "But you're still storytelling, and you still have to make sure that you're providing the audience with a grounded story about a family, and that they're connecting with the family."
Billingsley has only fond memories of working on the movie and had a particularly close relationship with the late director and co-writer, Bob Clark. "Nobody believed in 'A Christmas Story' except for Bob and Jean, and it took them 12 years to get the movie made," he says. "So we were doing a movie where everyone was working from the right place, just trying to tell a great story.
"Bob was a very influential person in my life," Billingsley continues. "I had a strong interest in everything that was happening on the set. When other actors would go back to their trailers, I often hung around. And Bob would include me in what was going on because I was genuinely curious. He encouraged me to get into the edit room, which I did when I was about 18. He told me, 'Don't jump into anything. Learn how to do it.' So I really entrenched myself and learned the business on Bob's advice, and it was the best advice I could have gotten."
The movie did moderately well when it was released in theatres in 1983, but it was only after it became a perennial holiday fixture on television, with 24-hour marathons on TBS and TNT, that it evolved into a phenomenon. "I think people have such strong feelings about it because it was refreshing to have a Christmas movie about a very real dynamic," says Billingsley. "It wasn't a vanilla version of how things were; I think it genuinely mirrored how people remembered their own families. Every family has its flaws, but there is always love at the core. It's a very real portrait of a family."